photo: Bhernandez/Creative Commons
Since the end of 2010 is rapidly approaching and if you're like many people you're thinking about resolutions to undertake in the new year, I offer up one which will really help you make your life much greener: Stop Worrying. Specifically, stop worrying about the fate of the planet. Don't stop caring, but stop worrying.
Beyond any single thing you can do, buy, don't do, or don't buy, resolving to stop worrying so much, instead remaining happy and optimistic in the face of adversity, is a hugely helpful and important step to take.
If you're a follower of the Dalai Lama's Facebook page, part of that last sentence may seem familiar. His Holiness' recently spoke to students in Sikkim, India and posted a video of that talk titled "Optimism in the Face of Adversity." At about the 2:13 second mark he makes a profoundly practical and at the same time utterly transformative statement:
We must be realistic. When things look difficult, accept that ... When we face a problem, investigate that problem, the nature of that problem. If that problem can be overcome though effort, then no need to worry. If that problem has no way to be overcome, no use to worry.
What's the problem with worrying?
Doesn't worrying about environmental problems make people start taking action to solve these problems? It sometimes may seem so, but more often than not that's actually not the case. It's only when you get beyond worrying, beyond the mental and therefore physical paralysis that worry causes, that meaningful action can take place.
Worry is a form of pain, and pain doesn't make people change. Worry is a chronic anxiety, one of the least productive of all emotions. Worry is like mental smog. It keeps you from seeing clearly.
People who create real change aren't worriers. They are the exact opposite. [...] They have looked at a bad situation, felt the pain, and moved on to creative answers. Their motivation is something better than worry. It can be pure love of the planet, which all of us share. It might also be what's called intrinsic motivation, which is the desire to master a field and to do as good a job as possible. They may have a specific passion or suddenly see a solution that no one else has. Free market incentives also enter the mix. Far, far down on the list is worry. Such people wouldn't be human if they didn't feel anxious about the state of things, yet they have taken steps to wipe out their anxiety in a productive way.
Here Chopra and the Dalai Lama are in consonance. Apply both to environmental problems: Examine the situation, every single issue we cover on Treehugger works; if there is a solution that can be brought about through effort (no matter how long that effort may take, even across generations), then don't worry as worry is unproductive and won't help bring about that solution; if there isn't a solution that can be brought about through effort (and in some cases, after a certain point certain environmental outcomes that we perceive as negative may become inevitable), then worry won't help either.
How to stop worrying?
Well don't worry about be able to stop worrying for one thing. But more practically and less glibly, I'll offer this advice and practice which I've found very useful. It takes just a few minutes:
Sit up straight. In a chair, on the couch, on the ground doesn't matter so much as that you are comfortably sitting with the back straight. Begin breathing through the nose and focus on the breath. Follow it in and down, feel it throughout the body, and exhale, still focusing on the path it takes and the feeling of the breathe moving. Continue for as many breathes as you can. If the concentration wavers, return to the breathe and continue. You'll quickly see that while concentrating on the breath it's utterly impossible to worry. When done, continue sitting for a moment and think to yourself (as Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, founder of Kauai's Hindu Monastery long suggested) "I am alright, right now."
As someone whose chosen job it is to cover the continued decay, degradation and destruction of the one planet humans have to live upon--and whose actions are directly leading to that destruction in a way entirely unprecedented in the history of that planet--it is very easy to fall at times into despair. The magnitude of the situation can be overwhelming, both intellectually and emotionally, and the more you know about it, the magnitude just grows.
There is so much that needs to be done if we are to rectify the situation and create more socioecologically sustainable societies and personal lives, but the one thing that certainly doesn't help with that in the slightest is worrying.
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More on New Year's Resolutions:
10 Easy, Green New Year's Resolutions for the Eco-Slacker
Scientists' Top 10 New Year's Resolutions for 2009
Green Eyes On: Three Green New Year's Resolutions
Readers' Green New Year's Resolutions Photos